Champions Trophy: India rise to flatten Belgium, meet Pakistan in semifinals

BHUBANESWAR (TIP): ‘When you fall down, you gotta pick yourself back up’. This seems to be the Indian hockey team’s motto these days. The critics dismissed them when they lost their first two matches but the ‘men in blue’ stayed strong, regrouped and hit back. They first defeated the world No. 2 Netherlands in the group stage and on Thursday, when the stakes got higher, India got the scalp of world No. 4 Belgium 4-2 in the quarterfinals at the Kalinga Stadium which truly rocked. Cheered on by the capacity crowd, Sardar & Co came back from a two-goal deficit to stun the Belgians and set up a dream semifinal clash with Pakistan which will be played on Saturday. In the other semifinal Germany will take on Australia.

Incidentally, the top two teams from both groups at the end of the group stage are now out of the tournament. Such is the strange new format but nobody in the sub-continent is complaining. India began the match with a lot of confidence and took the attack to Belgium early in the first quarter. They had a great chance to score on the counter after Nikkin Thimmaiah played a beautiful through pass from the left flank towards the front of the goal. But Dharamvir Singh slipped, failed to get a touch and it was the Red Lions who took the lead the very next minute from a penalty corner.

It was their third penalty corner of the match and Felix Denayer made no mistake. To the dismay of the crowd, Sebastien Dockier made it 2-0 three minutes into the second quarter. Tanguy Cosnys pushed it hard from the top of the D and Dockier flicked it beautifully past goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. However, India took it on the chin and fought back. Cheered on by the crowd, SV Sunil won India their first penalty corner of the match through a counter-attack and Rupinder Pal Singh got into the attack. Rupinder, who had scored in the last match against the Netherlands too, flicked it into the top-right corner of the net giving no chance to the goalkeeper.

The goal lifted India who played some of the best hockey they have in a very long time throughout the second quarter. That eventually got them the equalizer three minutes from the end of first half. VR Raghunath slapped it hard from the left flank into the D and S Uthappa did well to deflect it into the net. Belgium tried hard to get back into the game in the third quarter but some tight defending by the hosts kept the score level. The Indians did not sit back and defend. Like the first half, they counter-attacked and took the lead for the first time in the match four minutes from the end of third quarter.

This time it was Akashdeep Singh who sounded the board after Sunil’s shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. Their tails up, India went into the attack, taking advantage of the huge gaps in the Belgian defence and their fourth of the night came four minutes into the fourth quarter. Manpreet Singh stole the ball in India’s half and passed it to Sardar. The skipper in turn gave it to Dharamvir who calmly put it through the legs of the custodian to bring the house down.

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